ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM http://animalpeopleforum.org A global forum in which people who care about animals can speak and be heard! Wed, 08 Aug 2018 05:42:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 POETRY: Mother of the Free http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/02/mother-of-the-free/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/02/mother-of-the-free/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 01:40:41 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18386 A poem inspired by the harrowing footage of animal abuse in UK slaughterhouses seen in the documentary 'Land of Hope and Glory.'

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A prisoner with haunted eyes and red-flecked flesh
Writhes in hideous contortions
While destruction lurks in the cursed air.
Before the final indignity of death
A fist penetrates her open wound,
Near festering, and probes inside.
Blood drips onto the weeping earth,
Soon trodden into dust by the countless feet that follow.


‘Mother of the Free’ is inspired by the documentary ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ which exposes the horrific conditions in animal farming across the UK. One particular scene features an injured pig who is tormented by a slaughterhouse worker before she enters the abattoir.


Featured image credit Farm Watch, CC BY-NC 2.0.

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Night at the Circus: A Short Story http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/02/night-at-the-circus/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/02/night-at-the-circus/#respond Fri, 03 Aug 2018 00:27:39 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18191 Three friends visit a circus to try and rescue a great eagle stolen from a 'savage' tribe, in this excerpt from an upcoming children's fantasy novel inspired by real-world mistreatment of animals.

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“Night at the Circus” is a chapter from a children’s book I’m working on called Even Though They Soar. Although the story’s setting is fantastic, the events it portrays are very much grounded in real-world mistreatment of animals, and I hope that the example it sets for young readers will inspire them to become advocates for animals themselves.


The city-folk had drilled deep into the earth to carve out their monstrous auditorium. Stone benches stretched around all four sides of the stage in the centre. Tunnels sealed with iron gates were the only clue to the possible whereabouts of the great eagle the children so desperately sought.

The air tingled with the anticipation of the waiting crowd. A suited attendant, subtly sniffing in disapproval, escorted Nish and her friends to a row at the very front of the stage. They squeezed in beside the other guests, who looked askance at the unattended children but soon turned their scrutiny back to the stage.

“Once you know for certain where the eagle is,” said Nish, leaning in, “we can hang back here after the show finishes and then we can set it free!”

“That’s the plan?” said Chiku, who had clearly expected more.

“It’s all we’ve got!” she snapped back, wishing it wasn’t true.

“At least this will be the last performance the eagle ever has to do!” smiled Eshe after a moment’s silence.

Nish knew that the creature would have endured enormous suffering here already. Yet as heartbreaking as she knew its condition must be, it would nonetheless soothe her spirit to see the wondrous creature in the flesh again.

Suddenly, bright flickering candles sparked into life. The would-be liberators fell silent, craning forward for a better look at whatever was about to unfold.

“Ladies and gentleman! Faithful subjects of the crown! On behalf of his Royal Highness, please allow me to welcome you to the Imperial Circus! Prepare to witness the most incredible creatures in all creation! All gathered here tonight for your viewing pleasure!”

With a gale of applause, the crowd surged onto their feet. The booming voice belonged to a man who leapt, with dizzying precision, from the top of one set of stairs to the bottom, in a series of cartwheels and backflips. The crowd was almost drunk with excitement already.

The ringmaster took a deep bow to soak up the fanfare before taking his place centre stage. He raised both hands until his audience fell silent again.

“For the last five years, we have strived to train the great eagle, mystical leader of the most savage native tribes! This mysterious creature blesses all its followers, whose sharp long nails are like its own cruel talons. It is said that on nights when the full moon hangs low over the grasslands, its savage followers sprout wings and hunt through the skies for their victims!”

The crowd gasped appreciatively. Nish couldn’t help but turn to Chiku and roll her eyes dramatically.

“Thanks to the hard work of our world-renowned trainers, I can proudly reveal that the great eagle will soon take to this very stage and perform for you tonight!”

This time the crowd stamped their feet as well as applauding. Nish wished the ringmaster would hurry up and get on with it.

“Before our show-stopping finale, I, ringmaster of the Imperial Circus, will reveal the attractions that will keep you on the edge of your seats this evening! Firstly, give a warm welcome to our musical accompaniment!”

Twenty-four young girls clad in army uniforms, each carrying drums as big or bigger than their own bodies, entered the stage via the tunnels. They banged their drums in time with their marching feet as they assembled around the stage.

The soft rumble of the drums continued as the ringmaster called out, “We will later be showcasing some of our home grown talent from this glorious city itself! And now, let me introduce you to trainers Zippa and Zago, and their wonderful dancing bear!

The first act shambled onto the stage amidst the deafening sound of applause and incessant drumming. Nish had never witnessed a sight as pitiful as that broken creature. The bear stood taller than her trainers, yet cowered in fright from them. Her snout bore evidence of the brutal treatment she had received at their hands, and her front paws were stripped of their claws and shackled together. In her chains she stood there, trembling, while her trainers bowed to the rapt audience. Both were clad in top hats and tails; both carried lethal-looking whips.

Brum. Brum. Brum. throbbed the drums. With a single crack of the whip against the stage floor, the bear began to contort herself.

“In what world does anyone consider that dancing?” whispered Eshe to Chiku, who shook her head sadly.

The bear’s lumbering movements were only vaguely in time with the drum beat, yet the crowd lapped it up. As the drums quickened their pace, so too did the bear. When Nish could take it no longer she turned her attention to the crowd instead. Many were clapping in time with the music or dancing along. An old man nearby sat calmly smirking, whilst a woman beside him performed a crude imitation of the bear.

How Nish wished the bear could tear off her chains and show the crowd what wild animals were really capable of… They’d soon learn that they had only a semblance of power over her. By humiliating this poor creature, the city-folk were only stoking the flames of her hatred. Even without her claws she could easily overpower the trainers. One small misstep would be enough to seal their fates.

Shaking her head at these violent visions, Nish glanced around at her friends. Eshe had her hands clapped over her mouth. Chiku was clapping along for show while ice glinted in their eyes.

“It’s not so bad,” whispered Nish, leaning across. “I’ve heard they make the bear fight sometimes…”

She trailed off when Chiku only gaped at her.

“And now, please remain standing for the dazzling wildcats of the Barrenlands! Their natural prowess has been honed over years of dedicated training! In their natural habitat they’d shy away from any human interaction – but now look at them go!”

Nish was glad she hadn’t eaten much before their rescue mission. What she witnessed next made her feel sick to her stomach. The cats were short, stumpy-legged creatures with long bushy tails and perfect white fur. She supposed it must be a very different sort of environment, the Barrenlands, if such white fur was useful as camouflage. She hardly ever saw anything white out in the grasslands, except for the clouds.

The cats sprinted around the stage in synchronised laps before performing tricks at the trainer’s request, leaping high up into the air on command. The ringmaster re-appeared on a unicycle, holding aloft a narrow hoop, which the cats were encouraged to jump through. He held it up higher and higher, but the cats still managed to make the leap cleanly through it. Nish and her friends couldn’t help but wince at the heaviness of their landings on the other side. Then, with a roll of the drums, the ringleader lit the hoop on fire.

The sight of the glowing flames hushed the crowd. They waited with bated breath to see what the cats would do in the face of this new challenge. Either the creatures knew they could jump with unfailing precision, or they feared the wrath of their trainer if they refused. One after another they threw themselves up into the air and through the hoop while the ringmaster cycled erratically around the stage. Nish could hardly hear the ringmaster anymore over the ecstasy of the crowd. When the somehow unharmed cats hurried off the stage, the ringmaster continued to cycle around, performing tricks of his own, until the crowd calmed itself down.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you have all been waiting for! From all the way across the ocean, from the hidden, murky depths of a place spoken of among the savages only in fear, a jungle considered to be impenetrable by all but the bravest soldiers! A place so humid, that the sweat would soak through your clothes within seconds of exposure! So dangerous, that even the sweetest-looking flower is stuffed with poison! Home to hunters of all shapes and sizes! From the belly of that foul den, the soldiers of our realm seized no less a prize than the proud great eagle! Believed to be the wisest and most ancient of all the savage creatures! He is worshiped like a king by his tribe! They used to meet under the dusky light of the moon to perform strange rituals in his honour! But – no more!”

His declaration was marked by a shuddering blast of the drums.

“No more can the savages rally around their namesake! We have freed them from their heathen rituals! Now, witness how even the mightiest of the savage creatures has no choice but to succumb to the will of the empire!”

Dragged along by four trainers, each pulling on a chain attached to the collar fixed around his neck, the great eagle fluttered his wings in protest, but was tethered to the ground by the strength of the trainers. Nish glimpsed a small tear in one wing; he suspected it bore many scars invisible to the eye. Not caring for the eagle’s obvious discomfort, the audience admired the striking colours of his plumage.

“Isn’t he gorgeous!” cooed a woman in the row behind.

Eventually the trainers succeeded in pulling the eagle onto the stage. The drummers began to play what Nish suspected was meant to resemble a traditional tribal song. She wondered how they knew what one sounded like, before realising with horror that the information had likely been tortured out of one of the native human captives the city-folk had ‘rescued’ along with the animals.

She had to clench her seat with both fists to keep herself from running onto the stage.

To be continued…


Featured image: elephants made to perform at the Oriental Circus in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2004. Image credit portable soul, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Animal Rights Law and the Pursuit of Nonhuman Personhood http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/animal-rights-law-pursuit-nonhuman-personhood/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/animal-rights-law-pursuit-nonhuman-personhood/#comments Thu, 02 Aug 2018 02:30:12 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18736 While securing legal protections for animals has always been a top priority for activists, the Nonhuman Rights Project is leading a novel approach toward animal rights law, as director Kevin Schneider explains in this special interview.

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An interview with Kevin Schneider, Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

Securing legal protections for animals against human cruelty and exploitation has always been a top priority for animal activists. Ashoka the Great, emperor of India from 268-232 BCE, enacted some of the earliest known animal protection legislation, including bans on animal sacrifice, hunting for sport, and the killing of certain species of wildlife. Several Buddhist rulers of China, including emperors Wu of Liang (502-549 CE) and Gaozu of Tang (566-635 CE), also passed laws restricting animal slaughter and promoting vegetarianism. Many centuries later, the modern Western animal protection movement crystallized around campaigns to enact animal welfare legislation. Early victories included the passage of the United Kingdom’s first anti-cruelty law in 1822, regulating the humane treatment of cattle and equines, and Henry Bergh’s founding of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to enforce the New York State animal welfare law in 1866.

However, recent years have seen a revolutionary new trend in animal protection law. Since 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project has filed lawsuits on behalf of non-human animals in captivity – including four chimpanzees and three elephants so far – seeking a writ of habeas corpus. That is, a court order requiring a person’s captors to either free them (or, in this case, surrender the animals to a sanctuary where they can exercise their natural rights) or legally justify their imprisonment. This approach is novel in that, while existing animal welfare laws regulate how humans are permitted to treat non-human animals, a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a chimpanzee or elephant would establish animals as having legal rights of their own, irreducible to human interests in treating them either cruelly or kindly.

Although to date, the NhRP has not won any of its court cases, it has prompted sympathetic opinions from judges who are, in theory, supportive of rights for non-human animals. Its strategy has also inspired similar efforts in other countries, several of which have resulted in victory, including writs of habeas corpus for an orangutan and chimpanzee in Argentina and a spectacled bear in Colombia.

Kevin Schneider is the Executive Director of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Animal People is honored to publish his detailed explanation of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s work and the importance of enshrining personhood for animals in the law.

Kevin Schneider (left), with Steven M. Wise (center), NhRP’s founder and president, and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard (right) at the 2017 Asia for Animals conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. Courtesy Kevin Schneider.


Q1: The term “animal rights” was first coined in the 19th century, and has been widely embraced by animal protection activists for many decades now. Yet it has only been relatively recently that serious campaigns have arisen calling for legal recognition of non-human animals as possessing rights. Why do you believe it has taken so long for animal rights advocates to begin laying the legal groundwork necessary for their movement’s agenda to succeed?

There’s no simple answer to this question. For one, people may take for granted the moral rights of nonhuman animals, but don’t necessarily see the need for transforming them into actual legal rights. They don’t understand that “moral rights” aren’t enough. In order for something to be a true right, it has to have “teeth,” that is, it must be directly enforceable in court. Another possible reason is that we simply don’t want to think about the depth of nonhuman animals’ suffering and its relationship to their utter lack of rights—it’s simply too distressing and overwhelming to contemplate.

Keiko the orca (now deceased) at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in the early 1990s. Image courtesy Kim Bartlett / Animal People, Inc.

More to the point, the Nonhuman Rights Project is the first organization to call for personhood for nonhuman animals. This seems to crystallize the issue more than the more vague popular notion of “rights,” which has taken on many non-legal colloquial meanings in our culture. Moreover, the term “animal rights” itself is ofttimes hopelessly confusing, insofar as it implies that there is one set of “rules” that applies to all animals. The approach of the NhRP, then, is to embrace the complexity of the issue and litigate for “chimpanzee rights,” “orca rights,” “elephant rights,” and so on, winning recognition of rights appropriate to each species on their own terms, in as many places as we can. As science, morality, and public opinion continue to shift in our favor we will add as many nonhuman animals to the category of “persons” or “rights-bearers” as possible.

We definitely have a lot of education to do about why rights and personhood really matter for nonhuman animals and what that will look like in practice, but that process is well underway.

Q2: Within the animal protection movement, “animal rights” and “animal welfare” are commonly distinguished as two separate camps. Do you believe there is an intrinsic distinction between the two? If so, how would you define the difference between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” as causes? Does campaigning for animal welfare undermine animal rights, or vice versa? Or are they simply two different means to the same ultimate end?

Proponents of both animal rights and animal welfare want to help nonhuman animals. But under animal welfare, nonhuman animals remain legal “things” with no rights, because that status is never brought into question in a welfare or protection context. (Note that most if not all “sentient being” laws likewise appear to keep in place the legal thinghood of all nonhuman animals, often explicitly so.) History demonstrates that the only way to truly protect human beings’ fundamental interests is to recognize that they’re legal persons with fundamental rights. It’s no different for nonhuman animals. Animal welfare focuses on the duties imposed on human beings regarding how they should treat nonhuman animals. Animal welfare laws—which apply only to certain species in certain circumstances, often aren’t enforced, and typically require proof of intentional cruelty on the part of a human “owner”—are radically insufficient, in our view.

However, at the same time, until nonhuman animals’ rights are recognized, animal welfare laws are all they have, and so they’re absolutely necessary right now. But it’s past time we moved beyond this paradigm; it would be irrational and unjust not to, given all we know about the capacities of other animals and how we’re literally destroying them to serve human interests. Nonhuman rights prioritize nonhuman animals’ interests—in freedom from captivity, participation in a community of other members of their species, and their natural habitats—not ours. NhRP founder and president Steven M. Wise writes succinctly on the rights/welfare issue in his July 2016 article “Toward Animal Personhood” in Foreign Affairs.

Q3: To date, the Nonhuman Rights Project has focused exclusively on chimpanzees and elephants as clients. Your website cites “ample, robust scientific evidence of self-awareness and autonomy” in these species as a reason why. But what of factors such as established human relationships with particular species, or the severity of cruelty a given animal faces? For example, dogs have been ubiquitous in daily human life as companions and helpers since ancient times, and are so widely beloved that many people already recognize a sort of de facto “social contract” between humans and “man’s best friend.” Crows have passed many of the same cognitive tests used to demonstrate high intelligence and self-awareness in great apes and elephants, yet are routinely shot or poisoned in the name of “pest control.” What are the factors NhRP considers when selecting new clients? Do you have plans to represent species other than great apes or elephants in the future?

Western jackdaw, a species of crow, on the Isle of Man. Image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.

Absolutely. What we’re doing right now in the US—advocating for common law personhood and rights for demonstrably self-aware, autonomous nonhuman animals like chimpanzees and elephants—is a starting point. That’s what NhRP President Steven M. Wise means when he says we’re trying to “break a hole in the legal wall” that separates all humans from all nonhuman animals, which is as much about vindicating the interests of our nonhuman animal clients as it is showing people what’s possible, necessary, and just. We plan to follow the science wherever it takes us, developing and refining our legal arguments accordingly.

We focus our arguments, legal and factual, around autonomy not because we value it per se, but because there is a long and rich tradition of Western judges going to great lengths to protect it. While the container of that autonomy has hitherto always been a human being, science shows that humans are not the only autonomous beings in this world. We’ve maintained from the beginning that self-awareness and autonomy are sufficient, but not necessary, for recognition of personhood and rights—meaning there can and should be other bases beyond autonomy on which to premise personhood and therefore rights. However, we think it’s vital, especially at this very early stage, to support our arguments with robust, abundant scientific evidence, and any rights-based litigation on behalf of nonhuman animals must reckon with nonhuman animals’ thinghood.

That said, human experience—such as the relationships you describe—matters too, especially as far as the common law is concerned. (“Common law” is the component of a nation’s law based on judicial precedent rather than written statutes or regulations.) While we continue working in the courts, we are also in the process of developing rights-based legislation, which will allow us somewhat greater flexibility as to whose rights and what kind of rights we’re seeking. Efforts on behalf of “domesticated” species, including those most close to us by some measure, like dogs and cats, will likely require a very different paradigm. Because they are so intertwined with humans, a focus on “autonomy” as a basis for rights may not be appropriate, requiring something perhaps more along the lines of a quasi-citizenship model, where humans would take on various duties towards domesticated species.

The book Zoopolis by philosophers Sue Donaldson and Will Kylmicka is an excellent starting point for thinking along these lines (by the way, both contributed to the February 2018 philosophers’ amicus brief in favor of our New York chimpanzee rights appeal).

Q4: How have other animal protection organizations reacted to the Nonhuman Rights Project’s approach? Has the movement generally rallied behind you, or is your approach regarded as controversial by fellow animal rights activists? Are there any common criticisms you face that you would like to respond to?

Dr. Jane Goodall, a board member of the Nonhuman Rights Project, interacting with a baby working elephant in Nepal. Image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.

In general, people seem to be enthusiastic about and recognize the uniqueness of our approach. Some people are sympathetic but think our approach is unlikely to succeed. Some think we go too far, others not far enough. We’re not trying to please everyone; we’re doing what we think is most likely to succeed in court.

The fact is, in our New York court cases, we’ve already succeeded in overcoming procedural obstacles that animal advocates frequently come up against, such as having been granted standing without having to allege any injury to human interests. We also secured the first ever habeas corpus hearing on behalf of a nonhuman animal (chimpanzees Hercules and Leo in 2015), and in May 2018 a high court judge in New York, responding to another of our chimpanzee rights lawsuits, opined—for the first time that we know of in the U.S.—about the injustice of keeping all nonhuman animals “legal things” without any rights.

It’s important to keep in mind that our approach is tailored to the legal system we have, not the legal system one might wish we had. In the same vein, our approach will and must differ significantly from country to country, as you can see in Shirley Shtiegman’s July 2017 blog post detailing what some of our international legal working groups are researching and planning.

Q5: In the United States, certain non-human entities are already considered legal persons, including corporations, which may exercise rights such as freedom of speech and standing in court. Does this in your opinion establish any useful precedent for extending legal rights to animals, or are the cases of legal entities and sentient organisms unrelated? Conversely, do you believe there is any risk of campaigns against corporate personhood, such as the petitions for a Constitutional amendment that followed the controversial Citizens United court decision, ultimately redefining legal personhood in such a way as to specifically exclude animals along with other non-human legal entities? 

The only reason we cite corporations (and indeed, cities, states, partnerships, ships, the Whanganui river, Hindu idols, mosques, Sikh holy books, the Colombian Amazon rainforest, the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, and other non-biological entities) as “legal persons” is to drive home the point that in the law, “person” and “human” have never been, are not now, and never will be synonymous. In other words, personhood is not a matter of biology, but rather a matter of public policy.

Cow beside the Ganges River in India. Image credit Aleksander Zykov, CC BY-SA 2.0

There is wide confusion about a fundamental issue at play in Citizens United (I personally think we’ll see it fall the good old-fashioned way, in the Supreme Court, way before any constitutional challenge could be mounted, which itself seems unlikely). There is a big difference between “legal personhood” and federal constitutional rights. The concept of corporate personhood has existed under the common law beginning in England 400 years ago or more. At its core, it’s a tremendously useful social innovation, insofar as it allows a profit-seeking enterprise (among many other types of entities, including charities and other nonprofits) to itself be owned, buy, sell, sign contracts, sue and be sued, be insured, and perform many other socially useful functions. That bit of legal magic, a “legal fiction,” has done, and continues to do, good things—including, for example, allowing nonprofits like the NhRP (which are themselves generally corporations of one sort or another) to thrive and serve as a counterbalance to for-profit and government interests.

The “mercenary sleight-of-hand” that transformed corporate personhood into federal constitutional rights occurred in the 1880s in the US with the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, under the guise of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment (see Astra Taylor’s excellent piece “Who Speaks for the Trees?” for more context). Corporate rights, especially those said to exist under the US Constitution, can and should be reined in. That need not, however, require “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and doing away with the fundamental idea of corporate personhood under the common law (and indeed, that would never seriously be considered in a modern liberal democracy anyway).

The conversation the NhRP has begun about personhood and rights is helping to cast light on all the other permutations of personhood and rights in our society. In order to recast rights in a more just and harmonious way, we have to first get a better collective grasp of what they are and why they really matter. All too often, judges and lawyers take for granted what a “person” is and fail to engage at all with the fundamental issues at play. But then, you come across a light in the darkness; someone like Justice Eugene Fahey of the New York Court of Appeals. On May 8th, Justice Fahey authored this opinion in one of our chimpanzee rights cases, a stirring and historic recognition of the justice and urgency of the arguments for nonhuman rights, which concludes:

“The issue whether a nonhuman animal has a fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus is profound and far-reaching. It speaks to our relationship with all the life around us. Ultimately, we will not be able to ignore it. While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.”

As we’ve written elsewhere, the legal thinghood of all nonhuman animals is at least two thousand years old; yet in less than five years, we have already seen the first cracks begin to emerge in that ancient wall.

Q6: Outside the United States, there are a number of jurisdictions that have either recognized animals as “non-human persons” – as dolphins are now classified in India – or acknowledged legal rights for individual animals – including an orangutan in Argentina and a spectacled bear in Colombia. Are there any international cases you consider particularly useful as precedents for winning legal rights for animals in the United States?

Sandra, an orangutan held at the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina, was ruled a “non-human person” in October 2015, though the case was appealed and Sandra still has not been relocated to a sanctuary. Image credit Roger Schultz, CC BY 2.0

In short: yes! And we bring these rulings to the attention of the courts once we’ve determined that they have actual legal traction, as does the Argentine ruling that recognized Cecilia the chimpanzee as a person with rights and ordered her transferred to a sanctuary, where she now lives today. The dolphin declaration in India is more complicated and does not appear to have the force of law, though it is encouraging nonetheless.

The Cecilia litigation was modeled in part on the NhRP’s habeas petitions in the US, as was litigation brought on behalf of Chucho the spectacled bear and Sandra the orangutan. Those cases have not yet been resolved, but we’re keeping a close eye on them and are assisting Chucho’s attorney however we can. We are also doing all we can to support efforts outside the US that will lead to more declarations of nonhuman personhood, and we will continue to cite every example of it that comes from courts around the world. This includes most recently the decision of Colombia’s Supreme Court that the Amazon rainforest there is a “legal person” with the capacity for rights.

Q7: Do you believe there is an eventual need for an explicit legal definition of “personhood,” including criteria for what traits any given entity must possess in order to qualify?

No. The “genius of the common law” is its innate flexibility and openness to new discovery. There is no list of requirements for personhood. In fact, over most of its history, personhood (more to the point, the deprivation of it) has been used as a tool for oppression. Women, children, African slaves, Indigenous peoples, etc. were all at one time non-persons, that is, “things” in one way or another. After all, personhood is nothing more than the law’s way of saying “you have the capacity for rights.” That does not mean every “person” gets the same rights. Indeed, that is why even today it is possible for some humans to have rights (say to vote or drive) while others do not, due to age or some other legal disability. The same can be said of corporate persons: while a company can buy and sell and sign contracts, it obviously cannot marry.

Cockroach climbing a slippery slope. Image credit Arthur Chapman, CC BY-NC 2.0

Setting down a set of requirements for personhood (again, nothing more than the capacity for rights) seems to be born from a desire to stave off the “slippery slope,” for example the idea that granting rights to a chimpanzee will eventually dictate granting similar rights to a cockroach. The true antidote to that kind of fuzzy and reactionary logic is correct moral thinking and the conviction that we can find an optimal balance and process for expanding the scope of rights beyond the human. In the meantime, we should avoid creating any new walls and instead keep the door open for future societies to continue to develop. (See for example Justice Barbara Jaffe’s thorough and laudable rejection of the “slippery slope” argument raised against the NhRP by the New York Attorney General in the case of chimpanzees Hercules and Leo in 2015) Any effort to establish requirements or other barriers to personhood would by and large be to perpetuate the same evil we are fighting. We need to let social evolution continue and provide for future societies to continue to expand the ambit of rights.

From the standpoint of an attorney or a judge, a “person” is merely an entity with the capacity for legal rights. This definition has already been established. In a fundamental way, a “person” counts. Personhood is a tremendously flexible concept in the law. We argue that our demonstrably autonomous nonhuman animal clients are common law legal persons, with the fundamental right to bodily liberty, because the common law already demonstrates that autonomy is a sufficient requirement for personhood. We argue autonomy not because we decided it’s great, but because judges for hundreds of years have enshrined autonomy, and the protection of it in “persons,” as a supreme value of the common law. That makes it a powerful “hook” for us to argue on behalf of autonomous nonhuman animals. There are, and will be, other bases for rights beyond autonomy in the future. Autonomy, we believe, is a powerful starting place.

Q8: Venturing beyond non-human animals into more theoretical territory, do you believe entities such as artificially intelligent machines should also qualify for legal personhood, in the event that humans should ever create sentient, self-aware mechanical beings?

If you’re demonstrably self-aware and psychologically autonomous, the same moral and legal arguments apply, no matter who you are. These capacities serve as a sufficient, but not necessary, basis for legal personhood and fundamental rights to bodily liberty and integrity. We are asked about this often, especially over the last couple of years. See, among other similar examples of late, this NBC News story on “robot rights.” As noted, only time will tell what additional bases for rights beyond autonomy may develop.

“She Cyborg,” © AhMeD-19. Used with permission.


Visit the Nonhuman Rights Project’s website to learn more about its philosophy and ongoing campaigns.

Follow Kevin Schneider and the Nonhuman Rights Project on Twitter for the latest updates on the struggle for non-human legal rights.


Featured image: working elephants bathing in river at Chitwan National Park, Nepal. Image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.

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Demand Instagram Change Its Rules Against Animal Cruelty http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/demand-instagram-change-rules-animal-cruelty/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/demand-instagram-change-rules-animal-cruelty/#respond Thu, 02 Aug 2018 01:34:21 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18783 By not taking responsibility for graphic animal abuse posts, Instagram is aiding and abetting animal abusers. Sign the petition demanding that Instagram change its policies to ban images of animal cruelty.

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“Have you no heart?” was the first reaction I had when I saw Instagram’s response to our pleas for them to take down Farzad Pooladi’s posts. Splayed across his page were numerous photos of bloodied, limp, and tortured bodies of rabbits for the entire world to see. He reveled in the rabbits’ deaths, in the animal communities’ disgust in him, and worse yet, he felt emboldened to continue on in his documentation of his heinous acts – because he knew no one could stop him, least of all Instagram.

But how could this be when Instagram’s policies state that users must “respect other members of the Instagram community,” and that only “photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience” will be allowed? If “photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks” are deemed inappropriate and banned for offending some people’s sensibilities, why isn’t the ill-feeling induced by torture taken into account as well?

And what of the new ban against exotic animal selfies that Instagram recently implemented? They want to prevent illegal animal entrapment and hunting, yet they refuse to take responsibility for the lives of other animals – just because they are “ordinary.” But dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. should not be overlooked. They are just as important as endangered wildlife to all those who take care of them and love them as if they were their own children.

By not taking responsibility for graphic animal abuse posts, Instagram is aiding and abetting animal abusers. Without a strong rule against animal cruelty, Instagram is not beholden to surrender the evidence they have stored in their servers to the courts or law enforcement, if a legal case is ever made against the abuser. If Instagram cannot be subpoenaed into relinquishing the evidence, then they are protecting the abuser and allowing them to walk free. This is an outcome that should never be allowed.

So the “Demand Instagram Improve Its Rules Against Animal Cruelty” campaign was created. First a petition was drafted, then testimonials were collected confirming the trauma that seeing those images has caused. Posters were passed out to further raise awareness of our grievances, and now articles exposing Instagram’s misdeeds have been written and publicized.

Nothing is immutable. Change will come in one form or another, and we stand proudly protecting what we believe is right. We are speaking for the voiceless and the defenseless. With this always in our hearts, I have no doubt we will triumph.

Click to sign the petition to Instagram to ban images of animal cruelty.


Featured image courtesy Kim Bartlett / Animal People, Inc.

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The Stubborn Donkey: Stupid or Rebellious? http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/stubborn-donkey-stupid-rebellious/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/08/01/stubborn-donkey-stupid-rebellious/#respond Wed, 01 Aug 2018 17:48:12 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18805 Despite the critical roles they have played in human history, donkeys are often the butt of jokes and garner little respect. Yet donkeys are in fact highly brilliant animals and enjoy a respectable position in ancient mythology.

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A donkey sensed a hungry wolf
was slithering about,
so he began to limp and moan
until the wolf cried out:
What makes you limp, my donkey friend?
Why such a mournful bray?

Oh, wolf, this thorn stuck in my hoof
has cut my foot all day.
And it would cut your tender mouth 

If you devoured me, 
So pull this thorn before you bite! 
Avoid that agony! 

Therefore, wolf picked up that donkey’s hoof
and looked up underneath.
And WHAM! The donkey kicked just once
and wolf lost all his teeth.

Ah, what a fool I was, lisped wolf,
as donkey turned to flee,
to trust the words of anyone
who lives in fear of me.

This fable of Aesop, the famous Greek writer, draws attention to a quality of donkeys that may sound strange to modern ears: their intelligence. Donkeys are in fact a highly brilliant animal despite popular misconceptions and stereotypes.

We are used to thinking of donkeys as animals fully subjugated to serving humans. Yet donkeys enjoy a respectable position in ancient myths and religions, which showcase aspects of their nature less well known today.

Domestication of donkeys

Somali wild ass. Image credit Josh More, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The history of donkeys is closely tied to the history of human civilization. Somalian wild asses are the ancestors of the modern domestic donkey. These asses are still alive today, but are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The ancient Egyptians and the inhabitants of Libya started the process of domestication. Donkeys were first used by people in agricultural activities, and demand for their labor gave them a high purchase value. In Roman times, donkeys were really expensive, costing up to 400.000 sesterces, equivalent to tens of thousands of euros.

Foolishness or rebellion?

Despite the critical roles they played in agriculture, travel and transport throughout human history, donkeys are often the butt of jokes and garner little respect. Donkeys have always suffered a reputation as “stupid animals”. As early as the sixth century BCE, Isidore spoke of donkeys as “lazy and foolish” and Homer described them as “tardus”. The Romans referred to people who could not read and write as “donkeys”. Well known is the phrase “Quid nunc te, asine litteras doceam?” (Should I teach you, donkey, how to read and write?), commonly used to mock students in the schools of the Roman Empire.

In fact, the perception of donkeys as stupid animals comes from their stubbornness. Although we are used to thinking of donkeys as animals in the service of humans, they have a difficult character and are not easy to domesticate. Their characteristics are better understood as “rebellious” than “stupid”.

Because of this tendency to rebel, donkeys who have helped with human labor have always suffered great abuse to make them obey commands. Historically, the same was true for schoolchildren deemed rebels who, as punishment for flouting the rules, were forced to wear the ears of a donkey.

A symbol of sexuality

Pinocchio transforming into a donkey, from a 1911 illustration. Public domain.

While donkeys’ associations with stubbornness and stupidity are well-known, only a handful of people know that in ancient mythology donkeys were also a symbol of sexuality. In the famous Roman book Metamorphoses by Apuleius (124-170 CE), the leading character Lucio, a man who follows his lowest instincts, is accidentally turned into a donkey. His life becomes a series of epic adventures which gradually ennoble him and contribute to his spiritual elevation. It is only at this point that he can once again become a man. Readers may be reminded of the vicissitudes of Pinocchio and his similar transformation into a donkey. Carlo Collodi’s 19th century Pinocchio stories were in fact inspired by ancient myths, and the wooden puppet, in the same way as Lucio, is portrayed learning from his experiences, growing spiritually and ultimately becoming human.

As symbols of sexuality, donkeys were associated not only with debauchery, but also morality and purification. Legend says that Priam, madly in love with Vesta – the virgin goddess of the hearth, the home, and family in Roman religion – would have tried to abuse her while she slept. His plan failed because of a sudden donkey’s bray that woke her up. Every ninth of June, on the celebratory day in honour of Vesta, donkeys were crowned and honoured for saving the goddess, and did not have to work.

Giver of immortality

Also little known in modern times, donkeys were once associated with perpetual youth. Many rich Roman women, including Empress Poppaea the wife of Nero (30-65 CE), bathed in donkey milk to stay young forever. The Greek writer Aelian (175-235 CE) tells a related story in De Natura Animalium (“On the Characteristics of Animals”). After catching Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity, Zeus wishes to reward those who disclosed the thief’s name with an anti-aging drug, which he sends to them via donkey. Along the way, the donkey stops to drink from a water source, but a snake protests that the water belongs to him. The donkey shares the immortality drug with the snake as a gesture of kindness, inviting him to return the favor. The snake accepts the trade and allows the donkey to drink from his water.

Snakes are often associated with immortality due to the way they cyclically change their skin. This myth represents donkeys as givers of immortality… but only if we are nice to them!

Donkeys and people at the Dharma Donkey Sanctuary in India. Image credit Bonny Shah.


Featured image: donkeys at Dharma Donkey Sanctuary in India. Credit Bonny Shah.


Originally published on the International Organization for Animal Protection’s website.

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Is Your Stressful Job Hurting Your Dog? Caring for Pets While Working Irregular Hours http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/23/stressful-job-hurting-dog-caring-pets-working-irregular-hours/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/23/stressful-job-hurting-dog-caring-pets-working-irregular-hours/#respond Mon, 23 Jul 2018 16:36:56 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18790 When most people think about maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life, they focus their attention on their partners and children, not realizing what an immense impact an irregular schedule can have on their dogs.

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Renowned wildlife photographer and writer Roger Caras once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” His statement rings very true in our busy, multi-faceted lives. Dogs provide us with comfort and stability amid the chaos. Yet when most people think about maintaining a healthy balance between work and home life, they focus most of their attention on their partners and children, not realizing what an immense impact an irregular schedule can have on their beloved pooch. It is important that we do our part to ensure the stress of our work doesn’t negatively impact our dogs.

Dogs are inherently creatures of habit and love to stick to a routine. Dogs who adhere to a daily routine are generally not only more obedient but can also, in some instances, be more loyal to their owners. When something upsets a dog’s routine, like his owner going away on holiday or engaging in shift work, his entire world can be turned upside down, making him anxious, stressed and even prone to depression.

Dealing with separation anxiety

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, being away from you when you work irregular hours can cause severe anxiety, stress, and depression. Your once happy and playful dog can become extremely anxious, turning to destruction as an outlet for his emotions. While some dogs may soil your floors and furniture, others find solace in chewing your shoes, couches and anything else they can lay their paws on. Dogs who are extremely panicky may even try to escape in a bid to find you, which puts them at a tremendous risk of getting injured or stolen.

What do you do when you see your dog suffer from separation anxiety? You can’t quit your job or simply give him away, but you can attempt to train him to handle the separation better.

Train your pet to handle the separation better

If your dog’s anxiety is mild, he can most likely be soothed by small treats when you leave for work. Spend a few minutes stroking and reassuring him in a calm, loving voice prior to your departure, and provide him with some toys and bites to eat when you leave, which you take away upon your return. This will allow your dog to associate you not being at home with something positive, thus easing his nerves.

If his anxiety is severe, it may require a bit more patience and training. If all your efforts seem fruitless it is best to consult with your vet, as an underlying condition could be making your dog’s condition worse, or he may need medication to help treat his anxiety.

Stick to a routine as much as possible

Regardless of the hours you work, it is important for both you and your dog to stick to a routine whenever possible. When you return from your shift needing to sleep during the day, invite your dog to come lay down with you. It may take some time to get him to do what you want, but in time you will both end up having a peaceful snooze when you need it most. Try to take your dog for walks at the same time every day, irrespective of whether it is as you return from your shift or just before you leave for work. If your dog stays outside during the day you can leave him to frolic around while you doze off, making a point to spend some quality time with him before you have to leave for work.

As stressful as irregular work hours may initially seem to both you and your dog, there are very effective ways to deal with the subsequent anxiety and stress. Remaining calm and showering your dog with love and affection while sticking to a realistic routine can go a very long way. Not only will doing so help keep him happy and stress-free, but it will also result in you getting enough sleep and experiencing less stress as well.


Featured image credit Mike Burke, Unsplash

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Geometer Moths in Spotlight for National Moth Week 2018 (July 21-29) http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/16/geometer-moths-spotlight-national-moth-week-2018-july-21-29/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/16/geometer-moths-spotlight-national-moth-week-2018-july-21-29/#respond Mon, 16 Jul 2018 21:38:49 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18577 National Moth Week invites moth enthusiasts, or "mothers," to participate in this worldwide citizen science project that shines a light on moths, their beauty, ecological diversity and critical role in the natural world as pollinators.

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The diverse, fascinating Geometridae family of moths, comprising 23,000 species in North America and around the world, gets the spotlight this year for National Moth Week 2018, July 21-29.

Image credit R.C.Kendrick / C & R Wildlife (Hong Kong)

National Moth Week (NMW) invites moth enthusiasts, a.k.a. “moth-ers,” of all ages and abilities to participate in this worldwide citizen science project that shines a light on moths, their beauty, ecological diversity and critical role in the natural world as pollinators. Online registration is in full swing with events already registered in 10 countries and 17 U.S. states as of mid-May.

Since it was established in 2012, NMW has inspired thousands of public and private moth-watching and educational events around the world in nearly 80 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Sites have included National Parks and Monuments, museums and local recreation areas, as well as private backyards and front porches – wherever there’s a light and a place for them to land.

Though often maligned as butterflies’ unattractive cousins and nighttime nuisances, moths have always had loyal fans among entomologists and naturalists for their beauty and value as pollinators and a food source for other animals. Today, moths also are being observed for the impact of climate change on their numbers and distribution.

Image credit Carl Barrentine

Each year, NMW highlights a different group of moths to encourage moth-ers to record and photograph in their local habitats. Found around the world, Geometridae comprise one of the largest families in the Lepidoptera order and often are called geometers and “geos.” Their name comes from Ancient Greek: geo, for “earth,” and metron, “to measure,” referring to their larvae, or caterpillars who appear to measure their movements across leaves and earth – think inchworms and loopers.

More than 1,400 of the 23,000 species are found in North America, and several are considered destructive to trees and crops. For this reason, entomologists are very interested in studying their population dispersal.

For moth-watchers, geometers can be fascinating to find and photograph for their interesting colors and patterns. The moths usually lie flat when they land rather than folding their wings as other moths do. The males’ antennae are often feathered. They are modestly sized – just over an inch – and their colors and patterns can be quite exotic.

“Since 2012, National Moth Week has introduced thousands of citizen scientists around the world to the fascinating and ecologically important world of nighttime nature and the moths that pollinate our crops and flowers,” said NMW co-founder David Moskowitz. “People of all ages and abilities can document moths in their local habitats and contribute their photos and observations of these important creatures.”

Studying moths can be as easy as turning on a porch light and waiting for them to come, or shining a light on a white sheet in a backyard or park. Ambitious moth-ers also coat tree trunks with a sticky, sweet mixture of fruit and stale beer. Searching for caterpillars and day-flying moths is a good activity for daytime. The NMW website offers tips on attracting moths. So long as you don’t pick up the moths, and make sure they all fly away after your event, NMW activities should not be harmful to the insects.

Image credit R.C.Kendrick / C & R Wildlife (Hong Kong)

Anyone can register a public or private event or locate one to attend in their area by checking nationalmothweek.org for public events. Registration is free to individuals, groups and organizations, and is encouraged so people can locate public events in their area. The NMW website features an events map showing the locations of events around the world.

Participants are invited to contribute their photos and findings to NMW partner websites, as well as the NMW Flickr group, which now has more than 85,000 moth photos from around the world.

National Moth Week was founded in 2012 by the Friends of the East Brunswick (N.J.) Environmental Commission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental education and conservation. It is now one of the most widespread citizen science projects in the world. It is coordinated by an all-volunteer team in New Jersey, New York, Washington State, Ecuador and Hong Kong.

For more information about National Moth Week, visit the website at nationalmothweek.org, or write to info@nationalmothweek.org.


Why study moths?

  • Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
  • Scientists estimate there are between 150,000 and 500,000 or more moth species.
  • Moths’ colors and patterns can be either dazzling or so cryptic as to define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.
  • Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – though others fly like butterflies during the day.
  • Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.

Featured image credit R.C.Kendrick / C & R Wildlife (Hong Kong)

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Got an Hour? Here Are 6 Easy Ways to Help Animals Online http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/11/got-hour-6-easy-ways-help-animals-online/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/11/got-hour-6-easy-ways-help-animals-online/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 15:40:32 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18570 While some might disparagingly call it ‘slacktivism’, getting involved in online activism is far better than doing nothing at all. A single click of your computer mouse has never been more powerful.

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As animal lovers, we often wish we could do more to help our fellow friends in need. But it can often feel like there isn’t enough time in the day to dedicate to making a real difference. Though it may seem this way, it isn’t necessarily the case. Given modern technology, there are all sorts of things that we as individuals can do in a short amount of time. A single click of your computer mouse has never been more powerful. If you ever find yourself with a spare hour, here are 6 easy ways to help animals online.

Sign online petitions

It’s upsetting to think about how much animal abuse goes on in the world, whether against domestic pets and livestock or wildlife and endangered species. Human interference is causing suffering and extinction on a massive scale. Signing petitions that bring these issues to light is just one way that you can make a difference for animals online.

Change.org and thepetitionsite.com are two popular petition platforms where you can sign existing petitions, and also create your own. These petitions can then be shared across your social media channels. While it may seem like an ‘armchair activist’ approach, every additional signature makes a difference. Consider the following:

  • To be searchable within WhiteHouse.gov, a petition must get 150 signatures in 30 days
  • To require a response, a petition must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days

 

You could be one of those 150 or 100,000 signatures.

Shop using AmazonSmile

Most of us already shop online, whether it’s through Amazon or another site. If you’re using it anyway, you may as well make a positive difference at the same time. When you sign up with AmazonSmile, 0.5% of the purchase price goes to your selected charity at no extra cost to you. And there are many animal charities included in this list to choose from.

In addition, there is iGive, which works in a similar way but without limiting you to Amazon.com. It’s arguably a preferable alternative, since there are over 1,400 affiliated stores, and it donates around 3% towards your chosen charity instead of just 0.5%. All of this is at no extra cost to you, the customer.

Donate your skills

Do you have something valuable to offer an animal welfare organization? Perhaps you’re the crafty type, capable of making toys and bedding for shelter pets. You could donate these to your local shelter, or alternatively sell them online and donate the profits. Shelters are often in need of volunteers with writing, web design, or social media skills who can help to update adoption profiles for pets in need of homes, among other things. Getting the word out online is one of the most important tasks in ensuring the success of these organizations, so even if you can only donate one hour per week, you could make a significant difference.

Spread the word on social media

Sharing animal abuse stories on social media in order to incite action can be tricky. On the one hand, of course it’s important to spread awareness so that people know what’s going on – and to shed light on the less well-known problems as well. Issues like deforestation often get far less attention than dog abuse, for example. On the other hand, constantly sharing petitions and fundraisers on your Facebook profile can sometimes have the opposite effect to the one intended.

Why? Because the fact is, most people don’t want to see this content on their news feeds. They come to social media for light entertainment – funny videos and weird memes – not to feel depressed about the sad plight of animals. Instead of sharing too much on your personal profile, consider creating a page or group where you can share content with like-minded people – not just your friends, but others as well. There are still opportunities to share with your personal community, but you need to pick your moments and do so in a measured and thoughtful way that won’t simply result in you being unfollowed.

Buy cruelty-free products

Whether we’re shopping online or offline, the products we choose to buy impact consumer demand and cast a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. If you love animals, you probably agree that they shouldn’t be tortured for the purposes of testing drugs and cosmetics. Yet in labs across the country, this is happening all the time – so that we can have shampoo, lip balms, and glitzy eyeliners. As if there weren’t enough options out there already.

PETA has a list of great cruelty-free companies that you can use to inform your purchasing decisions, including brands like Lush, Aveda, and Urban Decay. Likewise, Buzzfeed has a comprehensive guide to finding products: 186 Easy Ways To Buy Cruelty-Free And Vegan Beauty Products Online. We all need to be more aware of how our money is being spent, and subsequently the kind of world we’re funding in the process.

Check out our nine tips for shopping animal-free.

Fill out wildlife surveys

When the public gets involved with logging wildlife data, this can be a massive help to scientists working to promote conservation efforts. It takes very little time and can involve all sorts of activities, from keeping track of the native birds in your garden to laying down a white sheet and seeing how many different types of bugs are drawn to its glare. With handy apps like iNaturalist, you can even record and share wildlife sightings on your smartphone. Visit the National Biodiversity Network (or a local equivalent) to find a survey or scheme you can get involved with today.

While some might disparagingly call it ‘slacktivism’, getting involved in online activism is far better than doing nothing at all – and since we spend so much time online and using social media already, the Internet is increasingly the medium of choice for activists seeking to raise awareness and generate movements. Times are certainly changing, and each of us has the power to make a difference. There’s nothing stopping you from working your online magic and volunteering in the real world too. Let us know how you get on!


Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site that donates all of its web revenue to charities supporting startups, entrepreneurs, and other worthy causes. Check out the blog for your latest dose of growth hacking news. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.


Featured image credit Daniel Frank / Pexels.

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Beware Introducing Alien Species Into Our Environment http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/10/beware-introducing-alien-species-environment/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/10/beware-introducing-alien-species-environment/#respond Tue, 10 Jul 2018 14:41:24 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18564 Two new foreign predatory fish have been discovered in Malaysian waters. Shifting fish species around, whether for commercial fishing stock or the aquarium trade, creates the potential for ecological disasters.

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Alien fish species have long been known to dwell in Malaysian dams, lakes and rivers, but not much attention has been paid to their existence so far. Piranhas, African catfish, pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), peacock bass, and tilapia, to name a few, are all found in abundance in our waterways, and some are bred in ponds for aquaculture projects. News has surfaced recently of the discovery of two new foreign predatory fish: the earth eater and the black ghost knifefish.

The situation is grave. Experts warn of the potential for ecological disasters caused by these aquatic nuisance species. Ecosystems around the world have been dramatically altered as fish species are shifted around, whether for commercial fishing stock or the aquarium trade.

Fish farm in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Image credit WorldFish, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Humans are experts at helping species move from their native habitat into new territory. The new habitat may suit the invader fish so well that their arrival becomes catastrophic for local species. The introduced species are able to multiply at a very rapid rate, and in the absence of natural predators they are wiping out many of Malaysia’s native river species.

Species are transported around the world to fish farms, and when they escape, they become naturalised in many areas causing damage to native species and habitats. Recreational fishing is also to blame for the spread of invasive species. Trade in alien species for aquarium use can result in marine invasions too. Many people keep exotic fish, marine plants, invertebrates or corals in aquariums. Once fish hobbyists have outgrown their interest, or find their fish to be unmanageable once they’ve grown big, they then release their pets into streams and lakes.

It may seem like the humane thing to set Nemo free in the ocean, but such impulses pose an enormous threat to native ecosystems. Even something as seemingly harmless as a goldfish can disrupt local food webs by preying on fish eggs and small invertebrates, and cause excess algal growth by rooting up plants and releasing nutrients from the riverbed.

Anglers, usually ignorant of biological processes, assume that adding more fish to a river, dam, or lake will somehow help nature. Certain freshwater fish species used for recreational angling are released into rivers, dams and lakes – without undertaking any environmental impact assessment or monitoring – for the sole purpose of providing enjoyment for anglers. This practice has become so widespread that people often think that some of the invasive species are actually native ones.

At a UN conference on alien species in Norway in 1996, experts from 80 countries concluded that “alien invasive species were a major threat to biodiversity conservation and probably the greatest threat after habitat destruction.”

Clown knifefish, a highly invasive species non-native to Malaysia, at an aquarium in Kuching. Image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.

The fight against invasive species is a losing battle so far. Eradication is impossible for many invasive species, as they are already established beyond control. Also, the general public does not know or care about invasive species, and too few anglers, fish farmers, or aquarium owners practice the necessary preventive behaviors to prevent non-native fish from becoming established in the ecosystem.

Management of invasive fish species requires urgent attention. Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM) calls on the Fisheries Department to: (1) enforce the law in dealing with those found to be importing, selling and keeping alien predator fish; (2) halt the introduction of alien species solely for the pursuit of pleasure; and (3) ban aquarium shops from importing banned species, and prohibit fish farms from breeding species that, when escaped, could grow to monstrous size.

Community participation and awareness are critical to preventing the introduction and halting the spread of invasive species.


Featured image: fish farm in Langkawi, Malaysia. Image credit Laura Billings, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

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WORLD NEWS: Bird Poaching, Brumbies and the U.S. Farm Bill (7/7/18) http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/07/world-news-bird-poaching-brumbies-u-s-farm-bill-7-7-18/ http://animalpeopleforum.org/2018/07/07/world-news-bird-poaching-brumbies-u-s-farm-bill-7-7-18/#respond Sat, 07 Jul 2018 14:04:26 +0000 http://animalpeopleforum.org/?p=18543 Find out how the UK military is combating bird trapping in Cyprus, why conflict is erupting over Australia's feral horses, what the new U.S. farm bill may mean for animals, and more in the latest episode of Animal People World News!

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Watch the latest episode of Animal People World News to find out…

  • How the UK military is combating bird trapping in Cyprus
  • Why conflict is erupting over Australia’s feral horses
  • What the new U.S. farm bill may mean for animals
  • How human drug use can harm freshwater fish
  • Why vegan activists in France face a growing political backlash
  • Why Congo porcupines are being targeted for hunting
  • Why the dog meat trade may be coming to an end in China and South Korea
  • How the World Cup is impacting Russia’s stray dogs
  • Why two new studies present a ‘paradox’ for dog spay/neuter
  • How Koko the gorilla changed scientific understanding of animals

 

Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Writing & editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Presentation by Aubrie Rose Keegan & Wolf Gordon Clifton
Theme music: “Cloudburst” by Sentient Pulse


TRANSCRIPT:

VICTORY AGAINST BIRD POACHING IN CYPRUS

In the island nation of Cyprus, a major victory has been won against the ongoing problem of bird poaching. Cyprus is located along a major migratory route, and every year becomes a grave site for up to two point five million songbirds, who are killed to supply a traditional dish called ambelopoulia. Trappers lure the birds using recorded calls, and capture them in nets or by coating branches in glue. The birds are cooked whole and served in restaurants across the island.

Bird trapping has been illegal in Cyprus since 1974, but the law is seldom enforced, and ambelopoulia can be ordered easily in restaurants across the island. Blackcaps and song thrushes are the most commonly targeted birds, but the organization BirdLife Cyprus has recorded the consumption of one hundred and fifty-five different species, some of them endangered.

Fortunately, one of the biggest sites for poaching is now under military protection. The British military base of Dhekelia, on the southeast coast of Cyprus, has cracked down on poaching within its jurisdiction. British armed forces minister Mark Lancaster ordered the crackdown, saying he was inspired to take action after receiving letters from concerned citizens. Officers have managed to reduce poaching by an estimated seventy-two percent, saving nearly six hundred thousand birds over the past year.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the government of Malta has been convicted by the European Court of Justice for allowing the trapping of seven species of finches. Since 2014 Malta has permitted the capture of more than a hundred thousand birds, in violation of European bird conservation law. Although finches in Malta are captured for the pet trade rather than for food, BirdLife Cyprus says that the case sets a useful precedent for ending Cypriot bird trapping as well.

FERAL HORSE DILEMMA DIVIDES AUSTRALIA

In Australia, battle lines have been drawn over the issue of “brumbies,” or feral horses, with state governments taking radically different stances toward the animals. On May twenty-third, New South Wales passed a law to protect the horses of Kosciuszko National Park as part of the state’s cultural heritage. Conversely, the state of Victoria recently announced a plan to remove up to thirteen hundred horses from its own parklands.

Conservationists argue that the non-native brumbies endanger native plants and destroy habitat for native animals. Lethal culling has long been the norm for managing horse populations in Australia, including such methods as shooting brumbies from aircraft. New South Wales’ Wild Horse Heritage law will prohibit killing horses, while encouraging humane alternatives such as live trapping and adoption and contraceptive injections. By contrast, Victoria’s ministry of the environment says it will prioritize non-lethal methods, but allow captured horses to be killed if rehoming them proves too difficult.

Horses were first introduced to Australia by European colonists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hooved animals were never native to Australia previously, although large plant-eating marsupials once filled a similar ecological role, until driven extinct by human hunting and climate change. Today, there are around half a million feral horses scattered across Australia. It bears mention that sheep, another large herbivore non-native to Australia, are commercially raised for meat and wool by the tens of millions.

U.S. FARM BILL THREATENS STATE ANIMAL WELFARE LAWS

The United States is close to passing a new Farm Bill for 2018, and its potential implications for animals are massive. Especially dangerous is an amendment to the bill introduced by Iowa representative Steve King, which would strike down regulations on trade between states. State-level bans on puppy mills, regulations on humane farming and slaughter, and other laws protecting animals in industry would be overturned, along with regulations on issues like food safety and child labor. Future animal welfare legislation would become nearly impossible except at the federal level.

The King amendment, or Protect Interstate Commerce Act, is included in the farm bill passed by the House of Representatives, but not the version passed by the Senate. As there are many major differences between the two bills, a committee must now combine both documents into one final farm bill before it can be signed into law. The Humane Society Legislative Fund is currently lobbying committee members in an effort to strike the King amendment from the final draft.

In more positive news, both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill will prohibit the killing or sale of dogs and cats for food. Although there is currently no significant dog or cat meat trade within the United States, activists hope that banning it will set an example for other nations to follow, as well as prevent the industry from ever taking hold on U.S. soil. The Senate farm bill would also provide funding for domestic violence shelters to care for pets, allowing victims to more easily flee their abusers without having to abandon their animals.

The farm bill is not the only pending U.S. legislation to impact animals. Congress members from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have introduced a bill to allow the killing of up to one hundred sea lions per year, in the name of protection endangered salmon on whom they prey. Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed legalizing the hunting of red wolves. Red wolves are a critically endangered species, with only thirty-five known animals still living wild. Of these, all but twelve wolves living in a single refuge in North Carolina would now be sentenced to death. The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments online until the end of July.

HUMAN DRUG USE FOUND TO HARM FRESHWATER FISH

Recreational drug use has cascading harmful effects on wild animals and ecosystems, according to a new study in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Human users of cocaine excrete trace amounts of the drug in their waste, which ends up in rivers via sewer systems. In this study, researchers exposed European eels to trace amounts of cocaine, equivalent to that found in rivers near major European cities. The eels showed signs of severe stress, including hyperactive behavior, increased cortisol, weight loss, and muscle damage that impaired their swimming and breathing ability.

The eels in the study were exposed to cocaine for just fifty days, but in nature, eels may spend up to twenty years in drug-polluted rivers during their freshwater life stage. The European eel has become critically endangered in recent years, with other threats including overfishing, river dams, and climate change.

Eels are not the only species impacted by drugs in waterways, nor are illegal drugs like cocaine the only culprits. Previous research has shown that salmon suffer from exposure to common pain medications and antidepressants found in U.S. Pacific Northwest waters. Large-scale solutions include upgrading waste treatment plants to better remove drug residues, and changing the way healthcare providers dispose of unused medicines. In the mean time, individuals can help by avoiding medically unnecessary drug use, and not flushing expired drugs down the toilet.

FRENCH VEGAN MOVEMENT FACES GROWING BACKLASH

In France, animal rights activists are facing a growing backlash from lawmakers and the meat industry. On June twenty-first, the French butchers’ federation appealed to the Interior Ministry for police protection against vegan activists. The butchers accuse activists of assaulting them with fake blood and vandalizing their shops, breaking windows and spraying graffiti, tactics they describe as “authoritarian” and a form of “terrorism.” The letter also cites an instance of a vegan activist posting on Facebook that she had, quote, “zero compassion” for a butcher killed in a March terrorist attack. The activist in question was sentenced to seven months in prison for her comment.

While the butchers’ federation claims that French food culture is under attack by vegans, legally speaking the opposite is true. In April, France passed a law making it illegal to market vegan foods as alternatives to animal products, restricting terms like “meat,” “cheese,” and “sausage” exclusively to foods of animal origin. French president Emmanuel Macron, who pledged during his election campaign to install cameras in slaughterhouses and phase out cages in egg farms, has instead distanced himself from animal protection since taking office. In April, he even called to overturn France’s ban on hunting with dogs, and resume the long-abolished tradition of presidential hunts.

The United States may be following France in its approach to vegan cuisine. In May, the state of Missouri banned the word “meat” from being used to describe vegan meat alternatives. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is currently lobbying the Department of Agriculture to implement a similar ban nationwide.

CHINESE MEDICINE THREATENS PORCUPINES IN CONGO

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, porcupines are being killed in increasing numbers to supply Chinese traditional medicine. The animals are sought as a source of “bezoar stones,” hardened masses of indigestible material found in their stomachs. Bezoars from various herbivorous animals have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and are currently marketed as cures for everything from wounds and fevers to cancer and diabetes.

In the Congo, porcupines have long been hunted as a source of food, and their meat can easily be found in local restaurants. However, demand for bezoars has rapidly accelerated in recent months due to increasing Chinese immigration and economic activity. O.I.P.A., the International Organization for Animal Protection, has documented numerous cases of Chinese paying local villagers to hunt porcupines. A porcupine bezoar can sell for nearly two hundred U.S. dollars, though on average, only one out of every two hundred animals killed actually contains one.

Porcupines are just one of many species hunted to supply the bushmeat trade, including critically endangered primates, elephants, and bats. Some six million tons of bushmeat are taken from the Congo Basin each year, both for subsistence and commercial sale and export. Defenders of the trade argue that local people are dependent on hunting wildlife for their protein needs, and that switching to livestock farming would be even more destructive for wild ecosystems. The alternative solution of promoting plant agriculture has to date received little consideration, even though plant-based proteins require far less land or water to produce than meat, dairy, or eggs.

CHINESE DOG MEAT FESTIVAL UNDERWAY AS SOUTH KOREA MOVES TO BAN

The infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival was held again in southwest China during the last ten days of June. During the festival, dogs are bludgeoned to death and sometimes boiled or skinned alive. Most of the animals are stolen pets trucked in from other regions of China, while a few come from small-scale dog farms. The festival has been held every year since 2010, when it was established to promote the local economy in the city of Yulin.

Historically, dog meat was rarely if ever eaten in most parts of China, but became more common during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, when many people began eating dogs, cats, and wildlife in order to survive famine. Today, some ten million dogs and four million cats are eaten every year across China.

The practice is increasingly controversial, however, both internationally and within China. This year, eighty-five Chinese animal protection organizations joined forces with Humane Society International, petitioning the Chinese government to shut down the festival and rescuing one hundred and thirty seven dogs from being slaughtered. A number of Chinese politicians have spoken out against the dog meat trade, and the Yulin city government has not officially sanctioned the festival since 2014. Fewer than one thousand dogs were slaughtered in 2016, down from as many as fifteen thousand at the event’s peak.

Meanwhile, South Korea has made progress toward abolishing its own dog meat trade. Dogs are not legally recognized as food animals under Korean law, but neither has their consumption been officially banned. On June twenty-first, the city court of Bucheon convicted a dog meat farmer of illegal slaughter, stating that meat consumption is not a legally valid reason to kill dogs. The case sets an important precedent for the criminalization of dog meat – particularly with the approach of Bok Nal, the dates of July twelfth, July twenty-second, and August eleventh on which dog meat soup is a traditional dish.

WORLD CUP HOUNDED BY RUMORS OF DOG MASSACRES

The World Cup, the world’s largest soccer tournament, is now underway in Russia, and will continue until July fifteenth. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, rumors emerged of street dogs being massacred in the eleven cities hosting games. Government officials deny the rumors, dismissing cases of dogs who have died from poison as individual acts of cruelty rather than systematic culling. A viral photograph claimed to show a large-scale Russian dog cull turned out to be a hoax, having actually been taken in Pakistan almost two years ago.

Nonetheless, Russian authorities have captured many street dogs and locked them away in shelters, often with little space or sanitation. While some cities have partnered with animal welfare organizations to house captured dogs, others have enlisted private companies, including waste disposal firms. Parliament member Vladimir Burmatov visited one of the shelters firsthand, describing the dogs as “malnourished” and stating that many were being put to sleep to free up space.

If dogs are not only being locked away but deliberately killed, it wouldn’t be the first time Russia has exterminated strays to prepare for sporting events. In 2014, the city government of Sochi systematically poisoned dogs before hosting the Winter Olympics. Similar incidents could be avoided in the future were FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, to add an animal welfare clause to its tournament host contract.

NEW STUDIES CARRY BIG IMPLICATIONS FOR DOG SPAY/NEUTER

Spay and neuter has long been a major focus of animal protection efforts worldwide, as a means to humanely control dog and cat populations without resorting to killing. Two recently published scientific studies carry big implications for how spay/neuter campaigns can best be implemented for the good of animals and humans alike.

The first study, published by veterinary scientists McGreevy et al. in the journal Plos One, reports that early-age neutering of male dogs can increase the risk of behavioral problems. Dogs neutered before reaching puberty were found to show higher rates of fear and aggression than dogs neutered later in life. This presents a “paradox,” as the authors put it: On the one hand, sterilization reduces the total number of unwanted animals. On the other hand, by increasing unwanted behaviors, it can also make pets more likely to be abandoned, and stray animals more hostile to humans and so less likely to be tolerated. The research suggests that spay/neuter advocates might have greater long-term success by sterilizing only adult dogs, and by focusing their efforts on females, who tend to be less aggressive than males whether spayed or intact.

The second study, also published in Plos One by Corrieri et al., is a case study of dogs living in Bali, Indonesia. Comparing free-roaming dogs to animals who had been taken into homes as pets, the researchers found that street dogs were less excitable and less aggressive toward either humans or animals than those who lived in houses. When it comes to spay/neuter tactics, these findings suggest that returning stray animals to their territory after recovery is better for their welfare than adopting them into homes… at least in theory. In practice, this depends heavily on how well people in a given society tolerate animals, and whether free-roaming dogs are at high risk of abuse or killing.

Bali itself showcases the complexity of these factors. Dogs are celebrated in Balinese culture, and communities traditionally care for the free-roaming dogs in their midst. However, the arrival of rabies, first confirmed on the island in 2008, triggered government culls which led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of dogs, many of whom had already been sterilized, vaccinated, and returned by local animal groups.

SIGNING GORILLA KOKO PASSES AWAY AT 46

Koko, a Western lowland gorilla famous for her use of sign language, passed away in her sleep on June nineteenth. She was forty-six years old, a typical lifespan for gorillas in captivity. Born in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko’s ability to learn American Sign Language marked a turning point for the scientific study of non-human intelligence. Over the course of her life, she mastered more than two thousand words, and invented her own signs to describe new concepts. Koko was also an artist, painting images of birds, flowers, and even abstract concepts such as “love.”

Koko proved that the ability to use language is not unique to human beings. Her case, studied by scientist Francine Patterson and The Gorilla Foundation, paved the way for further discoveries of language use throughout the animal kingdom. These include:

Research with African grey parrots, showing they can learn over one hundred words along with basic grammar and arithmetic.

The discovery that orcas, or killer whales, possess distinct dialects of calls shared between groups of pods.

Prairie dogs’ ability to describe the size, shape, speed, and color of objects using different sounds.

Honey bees’ use of so-called waggle dances to describe the direction and distance of food sources.

And the invention of a computer program that can learn and translate the meaning of bat calls.

Says The Gorilla Foundation of Koko’s passing:

“Koko’s capacity for language and empathy has opened the minds and hearts of millions. Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.”

The post WORLD NEWS: Bird Poaching, Brumbies and the U.S. Farm Bill (7/7/18) appeared first on ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM.

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